Mood Challenges During Pregnancy

Headshot of depressed womanA lot of attention has been paid to postpartum depression, due in part to celebrities such as Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, and Gwyneth Paltrow helping to destigmatize the most common complication of childbirth. As an advocate, therapist, mother, and survivor of postpartum depression, I am happy that medical communities and the public at large are becoming familiar with perinatal mood/anxiety disorders (PMADs, the clinical term). However, there is still much work to be done.

Most women of childbearing age are not aware of the potential to develop depression or anxiety during pregnancy. A myth exists that pregnancy is a period that is protective of emotional health. Media images portraying pregnant women blissfully anticipating birth with swollen bellies may further trouble women who feel down or anxious while pregnant and may further compound a sense of helplessness or a drop in willingness to reach out for help.

The reality is that for some 10% of pregnant women, antenatal/prenatal depression presents as a challenge. And 6% of pregnant women will experience anxiety. The percentages are likely higher and underreported. Most at risk are pregnant teens and those in poverty, where the rates of mood challenges surrounding childbirth are considerably higher.

The good news is that depression and anxiety during pregnancy are very treatable, as is postpartum depression. What’s key is making sure women are getting the proper screening at several points during their pregnancy and throughout the first year after giving birth. Women’s hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and any prior or family history of depression or anxiety are all risk factors for women to develop this very treatable mental health challenge.

Mothers-to-be who are feeling down or anxious should reach out for help and contact Postpartum Support International at Volunteers from around the world and in every state in the U.S. can connect women and their families to therapists, psychiatrists, doulas, lactation consultants, and support groups. Women also can receive comfort and resources by reading Postpartum Progress at Some of the most helpful books I have recommended to my own clients in relation to depression and anxiety during pregnancy are the following:

Pregnancy Blues: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Depression During Pregnancy, by Shaila Misri, MD (2006)
Pregnant on Prozac: The Essential Guide to Making the Best Decision for You and Your Baby, by Shoshana Bennett, PhD (2008)
Beyond the Blues: Prenatal and Postpartum Depression: A Treatment Manual, by Shoshana Bennett and Pec Indman (2011 edition)
The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook: Practical Skills to Help You Overcome Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Obsessions, and Compulsions, by Pamela Wiegartz (2009)

The good news is that such challenges are treatable, and a woman can expect to recover with swift treatment and minimal disruption to her well-being and that of her family, but prompt treatment (psychotherapy, social supports, self-care plan, and in some cases, medication management) is vital. Negative outcomes should a woman not seek treatment include pregnancy complications (constriction of blood flow to fetus can occur, as well as premature delivery) and a continuous episode of anxiety/depression that spans out past pregnancy into the critical first year of the baby’s life; complications are deleterious without intervention and can impact maternal-child bonding as well as impair child development. Therefore, screening at regular intervals (each trimester and throughout the first year postpartum) are key in preventing/treating perinatal challenges. Should a woman feel like she is experiencing anxiety or depression, she needs to know it’s not her fault and her complication can be remedied with prompt interventions by skilled, trained perinatal practitioners. Relief will occur with proper treatment, and women can move on to enjoy and embrace the miracle of mothering.

Related articles:
Relief for Clients Facing Postpartum Issues and Anxiety
Changing Brain Chemistry, Changing Paradigms

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW Postpartum Depression Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Lucy

    January 26th, 2012 at 5:57 PM

    What? I felt better than ever when I was pregnant. I liked the way that I felt and the way that I looked, and I would have a hard time not feeling good about being pregnant.

  • Andrea

    January 27th, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Please nite that one of the websites listed as a resource is not highlighted here…Postpartum Support International at is the world’s largest non-profit dedicated to perinatal mood /anxiety disorders —wonderful resources for moms and families struggling with postpartum challenges.

    @Lucy-I am so glad you had a great experience being pregnant, and that is certainly my wish for any pregnant woman. Glad that you are being educated about the number one complication of childbirth–perhaps shocking because no one talks about it :)

  • whitney coleman

    January 27th, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    Lucy, I am so glad to hear that you felt so good when pregnant. But I did not have that same kind of experience.

    I felt fat and ugly, on top of worrying about what kind of mother I was going to be.

    That was nine months of stress for me. The hardest part was having to admit that I was not exactly happy about the prospect of becoming a new mother.

    Everyone thought that I should be beaming with happiness and yet I was struggling with the truth that I did not feel like I could admit to anyone.

  • rosey

    January 28th, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    There are a lot of changes going on in the body during pregnancy, and if you are not ready to face those then being pregnant can be difficult. Everyone wants to be happy, but with raging and changing hormones that is not always possible. The best thing that I could suggest is to embrace becoming a mother and doing what you can to make sure that you and your baby stay as healthy as you can. If you are stressing then you know that has to have some adverse effects on the baby.

  • leone

    January 29th, 2012 at 1:00 PM

    Heard about this from a lot of people but never really understood it this well before. There is just so much happening inside that changes in a woman are imperative. And because this is a known fact it also calls for support from the family and especially the spouse.

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